What is Wuwei

Flowers grow effortlessly, naturally. However, imagine for a moment that a flower develops a consciousness similar to our own. It is likely starting to worry about the flowering process it has to face. It may wonder what color its leaves will be, if it could speed up the process using fertilizer, how much it costs, and if it can afford it, or even wonder if it will be more beautiful and larger than the flower that grows next. Thus, what is a natural process could become a real trauma.

We, like that flower, have many worries, preconceptions and prejudices that prevent us from flowing. Every time we worry about the future, even if the chances that our worst fears will be fulfilled are slim, we are going against the Wu Wei. That means that we waste psychological energy in vain.

In fact, if we look back we will realize that most of our concerns were revealed unfounded and many of our worst omens never materialized.”

Wu Wei is the art of sailing, rather than the art of rowing - Alan Watts

Wu Wei is often called “not doing,” “not acting,” “not interfering.” But “not to force” is the most apt translation we believe. Wu Wei is always to act in accordance with the pattern of things as they exist. Don’t impose on any situation a kind of interference that is not really in accordance with the situation.


Something about this Sunday morning inspires us to share a powerful and thought-provoking speech about the art of not forcing— via an excerpt from an Alan Watts talk on the Taoist principal Wu Wei.

The Tao Way: Wu Wei

There is a principle called Wu Wei. Wu means non or not, no, negation. Wei has a combination of meanings. It can mean action, making, but the best translation I have found for it is forcing. And so Wu Wei is the principle of not forcing in anything that you do.

Now we know when we watch any performance of an artist, be it a dancer or an actor, or a musician, we know immediately when the performance is forced. And we say it doesn’t ring true, it’s too artificial, it doesn’t seem to be natural.

Many people, who study the Taoist doctrines think that Wu Wei means do nothing. In the sense of laissez-faire, be lazy, always be passive. It doesn’t mean that. There is a time for action. When you study Judo, you use muscle only at the right moment. When your opponent is hopelessly overextended and off balance, and you add a little muscle to it and you throw him across the room. But only then. You never use muscle at the wrong moment.

For Shakespeare knew perfectly well- “there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at it’s flood, leads on to fortune.” And so, Wu Wei is based on knowledge of the tide. The drift of things. Get with it. Wu Wei is the art of sailing, rather than the art of rowing.

One of the most famous sayings from Lao Tzu is “superior virtue has no intention to be virtuous. And thus, is virtuous. Inferior virtue cannot let go of virtuosity, and thus is not virtue.” So one could also say, the real Wu Wei, is not intentionally Wu Wei, and so is Wu Wei. But inferior Wu Wei, so tries to be Wu Wei, that it isn’t. 

In other words, Wu Wei is not a matter of cultivated passivity. Or even of cultivated spontaneity. You have to be able to realize, that you don’t know what you really want to do, until you are very quiet.


Wu Wei tells us that life is an interconnected whole and understanding that unity plus placing ourselves in that flow will benefit our physical and psychological well-being. And when applied to the quotidian matters of our lives, allows us to reach our goals, spiritual or practical, with less wear and tear.


[Introduction was written by Psychologist, Jennifer Delgado Suarez]